Monday, November 28, 2011

Cruising Guide: Patos Island

This engaging review comes to us from club member Brent Carey.  Thanks for the advice!

It's a long haul from Seattle, but if you find yourself in the neighborhood, one of my favorite anchorages is at the north end of the San Juans, just swimming distance from Canada.  Three islands line up along the Strait of Georgia:  Matia (mah-TEE-ya), Sucia (SOO-sha), and Patos (PAT-os).  These are normally used mostly by locals from Bellingham or Blaine, though Sucia is a major anchorage for boaters from all over.  In fact, it is so popular that it tends to attract people away from the far less-visited Patos Island just about a mile away.

Patos Island is a 207-acre state park that has the distinct advantage that it has few decent anchorages.  However, those that exist are fantastic.  So, on the busiest of days, there will usually only be a half-dozen or so boats spread around the island, not including the occasional kayak.  This makes it quiet and peaceful, especially when compared to the circus at Sucia Island during the summer.  Go to Patos in the off-season during the week, and there's a good chance you'll have the whole island to yourself.

The island has three main places to spend the night:  Active Cove, Toe Point, and the north shore.  My favorite is Active Cove which features two mooring buoys, a few campsites, a couple of toilets, and no running water.  It's a bit too primitive for the RV-on-water crowd that flocks to Sucia or the big marinas.  During the summer, it is all about timing to get a buoy - get there around 11 am.  During the early and off-season, you'll generally have no problem.  It is entirely possible to squeeze a few more boats in the cove by throwing down an anchor, and occasionally a few power boaters will think that's a good idea.  Don't be that person.  Active Cove is small and it is beautiful because it is quiet and secluded.  Jamming in more boats does not mean that more people get to enjoy it.  It means that nobody does.  If you really need a place to spend the night and it's a full house at Patos, just cruise over to Sucia and you'll find a place.

When tied to a buoy in Active Cove, remember that it is named "Active" for a very good reason.  Imagine tying up in a fast-flowing stream that switches directions every couple of hours.  Tidal currents frequently run 4 kts or so, and can readily exceed 7, but much of the time they just spin you around.  It's a little disconcerting at first, but not a problem generally.  It is otherwise well-sheltered.

There are two ways into and out of the cove:  the west inlet and the east/south inlet.  Don't even try the east/south inlet.  It is too shallow and narrow for a keel boat.  You could make it during high tide, but the currents are pretty unpredictable, so don't risk it.  Just cruise around to the west end, just south of the lighthouse (inactive), and you'll have no problems.  Dozens of seals and porpoises typically convene just off of the point where the lighthouse sits.

Once settled in, you'll have to pay $10 at the pay station.  Bring walking shoes and check out the rest of the island.  Even as few people actually go to Patos, of those who go, fewer still ever venture onto the island past the picnic table.  They're missing out.

If you can't get into Active Cove, or you really don't want to share, and you know what you are doing, it is possible to anchor in a tiny cove at the other end of the island near Toe Point.  This is a really cool spot - just a tiny cove between two rocky peninsulas.  Don't even think about it unless weather is relatively calm, you have ample competent crew, you understand tides, are carrying at least two anchors, and have more anchor line than you know what to do with.  This is a lot like parking a blimp in a hangar lined with spikes.  OK, it's not quite that bad, but you don't have a large margin of error.  You'll have to drop an anchor near the cove entrance, and run a line to shore.  Of course, all of this requires some very careful maneuvering and using your dinghy to get it all set up.  It is tight, but the payoff is your own private cove.  Plan to leave at high tide so you have more room.

And, if Toe Point is occupied or you just aren't feeling that gutsy, then you can also anchor along the north shore at the east end of the island.  I've never done this because the shelf drops off pretty sharply and I've never felt like I had enough rode to do it right.  But, I do see the occasional sailboat parked there, and it is a beautiful spot with your own private beach.  So, something worth considering if the winds aren't blowing from the north.

Patos is actually a decent destination, but is more like a great place to stop for a day or two on your way somewhere else.  I have a house in Birch Bay, about 10 NM northeast of Patos, so tend to stop here on my way into the San Juans.  It would also make a great last stop on your way to Canada unless you need supplies, in which case you'll need to stop at Point Roberts or Blaine (I recommend the latter).  The nice thing is, that even though it is frequently full in the summer by the time you get there in your sailboat, it is always worth going there to check.

Patos Island Lighthouse
Active Cove - Patos Island

Active Cove - Patos Island

Active Cove - Patos Island

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The WYC's collected wisdom on chosing a life jacket

            Recently, a club member asked for opinions about the best life jacket to buy for keelboat sailing. Since this issue comes up not infrequently, I’ve compiled many club members’ opinions in an effort to simplify the decision-making process for future members.  Let’s start with Brent’s overview of the considerations involved:

First, do you need/want a Type II vest?  The deciding factor here are whether you want a vest that will likely keep your head out of the water if you are unconscious.  If this is a concern, then you should look to Type II, which narrows your choices quite a bit.

Next, on a keelboat, I wouldn't want to use a non-inflatable vest.  Too bulky.  Yet, on a dinghy, you don't really want an inflatable.  To my mind, one should really have two different vests - one for dinghy sailing and one for keelboats.  If you can't have two, then you'll have to do with a non-inflatable while keelboat sailing.

If you want/need a Type II inflatable, there aren't very many options.  Mustang makes one with a built-in harness.  This is what I use.  I'm quite happy with it.

If you don't want/need a Type II non-inflatable, then you'll be looking at Type III devices, and it really comes down to personal preference, but there are a few big considerations.  First is bulk, but that's not the most important consideration in my opinion, though it's the one that gets the most attention.  Way more important is that it doesn't restrict motion of your arms across the front of your body, and that there are no edges, corners, buckles, etc. that are likely to catch lines.

I would much rather take a bulky vest with a smooth profile than a sleek one with bits and pieces that would catch a line.  In fact, high floatation is a big deal for me.  Most people just go for the lowest-profile vest they can find, but it is important to remember what the vest is for.  More floatation is better.

For a vest to do a good job, it should keep you as high out of the water as possible.  It is there to save your life and not look good.  However, if you won't wear it, it won't do you any good.  So, know thyself.

I use a Type II/V hydrostatic inflatable with built-in harness by Mustang Survival when I don't plan on getting wet (i.e. keelboats).  On dinghies, I wear a Type II by Extrasport (I think).  I require a Type II vest, but as I tend to sail away from the immediate shore, I would probably use a Type II device anyway.

The topic of wakeboarding vests has come up, and while attractive in limited circumstances they should be relied upon only with caution:

Keep in mind, wakeboard vests will generally not save your life.  They will only improve you comfort for a short time.  Many (most?) do not meet the minimum floatation requirements to even meet Type III standards, and those that do are pretty minimal.  These are adequate only to provide a bit of insulation and reduce fatigue somewhat.  Use a neoprene vest only if you are sure you won't go into the water unconscious, or become unconscious or semi-conscious, and rescue is guaranteed within a few minutes.  Otherwise, this is just false security.

These vests are not adequate for keelboat sailing, except perhaps puttering around the lake with a competent crew.  Also, they are not advisable for single-handing except under supervision.  If you don't believe how quickly hypothermia sets in and how important every pound of buoyancy is, come talk to me and I'll tell you tales from the ER.

Of course, each person needs to weigh risks and make their own decision about what precautions to take, but most (all?) neoprene vests only lend a false sense of protection when it comes to sailing.  They are not designed for this purpose.  They are designed for situations where the water is relatively warm and rescue imminent.

The reason there are so many different kinds of PFDs is because there are different levels of exposure to different sorts of risks.  Each requires different measures to mitigate.  If you want to buy just one PFD to suit any sailing you might do, then buy the device for the worst exposure possible.  Then, if you can afford a second device, consider something less capable and possibly less obtrusive for sailing that is less exposed to risk.

However, all things being equal, an inflatable, in addition to being more comfortable than a foam vest, provides more buoyancy and has a better righting capability than an equivalently rated foam vest.  Still, as discussed, they are not really suitable for dinghy sailing because of the high chance of going into the water in a non-emergent situation.  Though, if I didn't need an auto-inflating Type II, I would consider a manually-inflating Type III over a neoprene vest for dinghy sailing.  This way I would have some floatation and insulation, plus the ability to inflate if I had to.  Still, for keelboat sailing, I wouldn't consider using anything other than a Type II except perhaps in conditions where I didn't feel like I needed a PFD at all.

My advice:  Just plan on getting two vests - an inflatable for keelboats and a foam vest for dinghies.  Get whichever you need first, and get a vest with the buoyancy appropriate to the level of risk you want to mitigate.  If you don't think you'll do much keelboat sailing, then just use your dingy vest.  If you're going to race on a keelboat, get an inflatable or go without  - unless you're going to do any distances at all, in which case you'll want an inflatable with a harness.

Dennis suggests using a floater jacket:

I'm normally a KB sailor, but I do sail dingys.   On the dingy, I always use the clubs PFD's or similar.   They are cheap, quick and don't get easily damaged. 

For years, I tried to use a very nice offshore inflatable PFD on the KB's.    But I seldom really wore it --> not good.   Among other issues was the fact that it had to be worn outside any coat or especially rain coat, so to get the coat off, the PFD had to come off and again seldom went back on.

I sail KB's frequently in the winter - so it is chilly.    Ultimately I purchased a type III Mustang  Integrity Class floater Jacket.   It is thick, having 1/2" flotation all around inside.   It is very warm and having a nylon shell is reasonably dry.    Now, I do look forward to wearing my life jacket when it is cold out, so always have it on when I should.   It is comfortable on most all cool days.    When the weather really does get warm (shirt sleeve), I do go back to the inflatable.    Downside is price.

Of course the floater jacket has no maintenance other than keeping it clean.   I've waterproofed it once and that helped.

As if that wasn’t enough food for thought, John adds the following links to tests of different styles of life vests.  Do consider how they will perform in waves, since you’re most likely to fall in the drink on a heavy day:

I found this interesting when I was researching inflatable PFDs. 

Testing inflatables against traditional PFDs in a wave pool with waves up to 4 feet high:

In fact, the type III inherently buoyant vest-style life jacket proved the real eye-opener for our test crew who had to work hard treading water to keep their faces clear of the waves when using this device.  When another test was conducted simulating an unconscious victim, those wearing the Type III inherently buoyant devices repeatedly sank well beneath the surface as the waves rolled over them.

Above from:

More life jacket tests:

Complete list of BoatUS tests:

USSailing Safety at Sea studies (no life jacket tests):

Adrian’s experience with on european pfds should also be considered.  Some members have even discussed adding leg straps to their pfds:

I have a Mustang MD3084, which I bought maybe 4 years ago. Here's a couple thoughts:

-Get something with automatic inflation. When I fell overboard, it brought me up to the surface immediately, almost in time to catch the stern of the boat, and close enough to grab the life ring. If it hadn't been automatic, the boat would've had to circle around for me. I tuck the release handle into the PFD when I sail so it won't accidentally get caught on something.
-Get something with an integrated harness. I wear mine all the time, and with the harness already on the lifejacket, clipping in is like a second thought.

-Don't get a Mustang. They use a proprietary plastic ring on the cartridges. When I went sailing in Europe, TSA confiscated my cartridge and you can't find any with the plastic ring outside the U.S. The 33g CO2 cartridges are universal, but the plastic ring isn't, and it's glued on to the cartridges Mustang sells. This is so you will buy only Mustang cartridges, which aren't sold outside the U.S. If it weren't for this, I would heartily recommend Mustang. Go to fisheries and look at all the PFD recharge kits they sell. Buy the PFD with the most "standard generic" recharge kit you can find. If you don't ever plan on leaving the U.S., then a Mustang PFD is a great choice.

-When I was in sailing school in France, we had inflatable PFDs that were super tough, with an integrated harness with a crotch strap. It is slightly less comfy, but a crotch strap is way more secure, and will allow someone to pull you back onboard by the harness. I doubt I'll ever find any harnesses with crotch straps for sale in the U.S., but if I did I'd buy it in a heartbeat.
Here's one close to the one I used:
Here's an example of one with leg straps:
Keep in mind that the more complicated it is to put on, the less likely you are to use it...

-Other features: if it doesn't have a whistle, put one on it. I also wish mine had a pocket to put a strobe. I have to clip the strobe to the PFD, but it's not very secure.

This takes us to the matter of strobes.  Finding a crew overboard in the dark is nearly impossible.  Brandon tells us that “after doing some ‘toss crap in the water at night and see if you can find it’ drills with Dan in the KB Skipper class, I would NEVER sail at night without it or a PFD.”  So make sure everyone has a light on them if you’re sailing at night.

If you don’t find a pfd with an integrated strobe, consider Raz’s words:

A great strobe to have is the C-Strobe made by ACR. It runs about 30 bucks at fisheries and runs on 2 AA batteries. This is a strobe that NOAA uses and is excellent, proven technology.  When Brandon and I taught a keelboat class last year that did a lot of night sailing, we made all our students get a strobe and I think they all chose to get this one. Practice turning it on a few times so that the muscle memory is there if you ever find yourself in the drink. 

For a very worthwhile five dollars, you can get a little clip that attaches the C-Strobe to the oral-inflate hose on your PFD. This is nice because the strobe stays safely on the inside when the PFD is packed, but is really easy to access if the thing inflates.

And just so you don’t forget to do everything possible to avoid falling off a boat in the first place, skip forward to about 4:30 on this video John found:
Use jack lines at night or when things get rough.